B&W’s 803 D3 stands out in new flagship speaker range

October 29th, 2015 | by Alfred Siew
B&W’s 803 D3 stands out in new flagship speaker range
B&W 803 D3

B&W 803 D3

When Bowers & Wilkins says its new 803 D3 speakers are completely new, they are not kidding. Neither is it an empty boast when it comes to the company’s promise of amazing sound in a compact size.

These new speakers are the standout ones from the British hi-fi company’s new 800 series lineup revealed in Singapore yesterday.

They are the middle of the pack for a series that also include the larger 802 D3 and the smaller 804 D3 and the stand-mount 805 D3. The largest of the lot – the 800 D3 – is out next year.

Yet, the 803 D3s are the standout performers because they have taken on the technology of their larger siblings while keeping compact enough even if you were to place them in an apartment instead of a large house.

Unlike the previous 803 versions which simply had more drivers or were larger versions of the 804, the new one brings along the “turbine head” seen in the larger 802 and 800 series. And that makes a lot of difference.

At least from a quick demo at the B&W launch yesterday in Singapore, it’s clear the new speakers are a lot more authoritative and sure-footed.

The diamond tweeters that B&W has been using for the past few generations of the 800 series brings the sparkle to the top-end, while the two 7-inch bass units here have enough heft and weight. Those are what you’d expect of such speakers, anyway.

The surprise is in the precision. Each instrument is clearly separate and located. There’s a level of clarity that’s the preserve of few flagship speakers. The detail extraction, from a 16/44 CD rip during the demo, was top-notch.

The biggest improvement, I’d argue, is the mid-range. B&W’s Continuum cone and the turbine head seem to be the big difference between this and the previous 803D and 804D I’ve auditioned in the past. I say this as an owner of an old pair of 805S who had once toyed with the idea of switching to floorstanders.

The previous 803D and 804D, other than the brighter treble, did not impress as much with their mid-range, going by my previous experiences. They seem to lack a whole lot of the dynamism, accuracy and sheer precision of the new 803 D3.

These revamped speakers, to my mind, are the best B&W speakers I’ve heard at that size. The 800 and 802 are legends themselves, but they are simply too big for apartments in Singapore, even if you can afford them.

Good news is, the 803 D3s bring some of their technologies – and impressive performance – to a design that’s more palatable. Better looking, they also feel less awkward in a living room than the larger siblings in the lineup.

To be fair, I can’t make a judgement on the new speakers just by listening to a few tracks. But my first impressions are good – surely better than previous mid-range floorstanders in the 800 series I’ve heard.

That’s not to mention the audition wasn’t at some specialised listening room but was conducted at the rather open B&W showroom at Millenia Walk. This means the sound does not require some exclusive man cave to be produced.

So, the speakers are good looking, sound great and won’t make your wife divorce you if you surprise her with a pair at home. The only issue left is, of course, the price.

Costing S$30,000 a pair (possibly about S$28,000 to S$29,000, if you bargain a little), the 803 D3s are certainly not cheap. You have many other options too if you have that amount in your bank – Sonus Faber comes to mind.

Speaking of that, what I find a little lacking still in the B&Ws is the coherence of the sound. I’d need to listen more, but if there’s something B&W can improve on, it’s in sound imaging.

This may be a matter of taste, but I feel the new speakers could more smoothly bring each element together as a whole, instead of coolly emphasising the component parts that they are. So, more like a band and less as individual musicians.

Of course, that’s a nice problem to have if I have S$30,000 to spend on hi-fi. I don’t, but if you have the moolah, the new 803 D3 are definitely worth a listen.

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